Indigenous children play in water-filled ditches in Attawapiskat, Ont. on April 19, 2016. Federal lawyers will be in court later this morning to argue the government’s appeal of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that ordered Ottawa to pay billions of dollars in compensation to First Nations children and their families. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

First Nations child welfare case adjourns, judge reserves decision

Ottawa wants to compensate First Nations families through a settlement in a separate class-action lawsuit

Advocates fighting for First Nations children and families ripped apart by an underfunded child welfare system say the Trudeau government should stop challenging a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order that awarded money to victims.

Lawyers on Tuesday wrapped up arguments in a Federal Court case challenging the tribunal’s ruling that Ottawa pay $40,000 to every First Nations child who was inappropriately taken away from their parents after 2006.

The ruling said the federal government “wilfully and recklessly” discriminated against Indigenous children living on-reserve by not properly funding child and family services. As a result, children were sent away from their homes, families and reserves.

Had they lived off-reserve, the children would be covered by better-funded provincial systems.

The Liberal government, which is appealing the tribunal’s decision, had its lawyers ask the Federal Court to stay the tribunal’s order that imposed a Dec. 10 deadline for the government to come up with a plan on how it would provide payment to victims.

Justice Department lawyer Robert Frater said Canada agrees its actions were discriminatory and that the government will compensate children and their families.

But Frater called the human rights tribunal’s order an “unnecessarily invasive piece of surgery by the wrong doctors.”

READ MORE: More First Nations kids deserve child-welfare compensation, federal lawyers argue

Ottawa instead wants to compensate First Nations families through a settlement in a separate but related class-action lawsuit filed earlier this year seeking $6 billion in damages for Indigenous children.

Federal Court Justice Paul Favel is reserving judgment, but said he will deliver a decision as soon as possible in a nod to the looming Dec. 10 deadline.

The government wants to negotiate a settlement that will cover all victims going back to 1991, and argued in court that the tribunal decision’s compensation plan doesn’t allow for this because its order only includes victims and their families since 2006.

Lawyers for the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which filed the original human-rights complaint in 2007, and other parties in the case said nothing stops the government from paying damages awarded by the human-rights tribunal while also extending compensation to other victims.

Cindy Blackstock, the society’s executive director, said the government is “shopping around for a court where they can do what they want” by trying to provide compensation through the class-action lawsuit instead of following the tribunal’s order.

“We’re in the litigation process at the tribunal on compensation because Canada wanted us to go there. We wanted to mediate, but Canada said, ‘No, we have to litigate this at the tribunal.’ So they got what they wanted, which is an order,” Blackstock told reporters outside the courtroom Tuesday.

“Now they don’t like the order and they want it out of the way,” she said, adding, “it feels like they’re just trying to find a place that agrees with them.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who took in the court proceedings Tuesday, said he will continue to push Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stop taking Indigenous children to court.

“The government should drop the appeal, it should follow the tribunal decision. If there are other cases and other discrimination that need to be addressed, address that as well.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Photographer captures Port Alberni personalities in black and white portraits

Meet John Douglas, Courtney Naesgaard in double exhibit Jan. 18 at Rollin Art Centre

Alberni Valley Community Foundation opens grant application process for 2020

Nearly $30K available for Port Alberni-based charities

Stray cat with ‘serious burns’ recovering at Alberni SPCA

The BC SPCA’s Alberni-Clayoquot branch is asking members of the public for help with medical costs

B.C. government puts kibosh on drag racing at Alberni Valley Regional Airport

AVDRA was hopeful for a three-year temporary contract to race at the airport

Wet, white and windy winter weather hits Port Alberni

Snow expected to turn to rain on Thursday

‘Like an ATM’: World’s first biometric opioid-dispensing machine launches in B.C.

First-of-its-kind dispensing machine unveiled in the Downtown Eastside with hopes of curbing overdose deaths

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

Horgan cancels event in northern B.C. due to security concerns, says Fraser Lake mayor

The premier will still be visiting the city, but the location and day will not be made public

B.C. landlord sentenced to two years in jail for torching his own rental property

Wei Li was convicted of intentionally lighting his rental property on fire in October 2017

Blue Monday is a myth but seasonal affective disorder and the winter blues are real

Canadian Mental Health Association says weather can affect mood

PHOTOS: Eastern Newfoundland reeling, search underway for missing man after blizzard

More than 70 centimetres of new snow fell overnight, creating whiteout conditions

Prince Harry, Meghan to give up ‘royal highness’ titles

‘Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,’ says Queen Elizabeth II

Ice chunk from truck crushes vehicle windshield on Vancouver Island

None injured, but Nanaimo RCMP say there can be fines for accumulations of ice and snow

Calls for dialogue as Coastal GasLink pipeline polarizes some in northern B.C.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast

Most Read